Ok -- not really. It was actually a lovely jack & jill shower, held outdoors in a pavilion at the park for my absolutely radiant stepsister. Everyone had a blast, and my kids actually refrained from both crying AND pooping... and if you have kids, you know that this made for quite a pleasant afternoon.
However, I, the reluctant-yet-overly-ambitious baker, was in over my head. This post should really be entitled The Hell BEFORE the Baby Shower. After entirely too much hemming and hawing over recipes, I decided upon this: a whipped brown butter vanilla cake, with a lemon curd filling and lemon meringue buttercream frosting. As if that wasn't enough, I was also tasked with making 24 cupcakes. The last time I did that much baking was for my son's baptism, and I thought having two different recipes was overcomplicating it. I decided to do the same thing for the cupcakes, filling them with the lemon curd. Instead of keeping the process simple, I ended up chosing to do a recipe with a million steps... TWICE.
What's that you say? I'm a lunatic? But I'm not finished! I also decided to decorate the cake and the cupcakes with these dried pineapple flowers from Martha Stewart. Seriously, even typing this all out again is making me annoyed. This whole post is already annoying.
Let's continue this madness, shall we?
I should add that immediately after I typed that, my 9 month old son spit up all over his crib, while his 2 1/2 year old sister screamed in hysterics in her room because APPARENTLY a cupcake is not an appropriate bedtime snack. What in the world made me think I could have a hobby?
Anyway... the cake was pretty delicious. There is nothing like eating something that contains those little flecks of vanilla bean. I'd never worked with a real vanilla bean before -- I'd read recipes that always said "split open and scrape out the seeds," so I'm thinking it contains a few seeds. Instead, it's like tar on the inside, and the "scraping" cannot just be done with the tip of your knife. For me, it was the back of a spoon, and it was kind of gross.
The vanilla bean (along with the seeds) gets cooked down with butter and turned into "brown butter." This made the batter smell delicious and gave the cake a depth of flavor that plain old white cakes just do not have. You whip it like crazy until it is super fluffy. Super fluffy batters are not usually my favorite to work with, because they look pretty...
...until your cake becomes the most annoying jigsaw puzzle on the planet.
The lemon curd and the first batch of the frosting were both relatively easy to do and lovely. The curd was velvety and delicious, and the frosting that I didn't screw up was sticky enough to make my cake pieces resemble a cake once again.
I screwed up the second batch of frosting and in my half asleep daze, I added the curd before I added the butter and it was a bit soupy, but luckily I was just spreading a thin layer of it on each cupcake and sticking a pineapple flower on the top.
Ah yes -- my arch-nemesis, the pineapple flower. I can remember a time in my life when my sworn enemy would be the person in front of me at airport security, or my messy roommate and her grabby boyfriend, or a vegetable. Now, it's a pineapple flower. Whose life am I living???
I just couldn't slice them thin enough to fully dry out. I ended up transferring them to a muffin tin to try and cook the bottoms more and increasing the heat in my oven -- nearly burning them. They were just sort of gummy and floppy and sticky and altogether icky. But, they somehow ended up looking pretty good, thankfully, because as I mentioned before, I blew it on the second batch of frosting and needed a suitable smokescreen.
I think I would make the cake again, but I would not waste all that vanilla bean deliciousness on a lemon cake. You know how I feel about fruit desserts - what a cop out. But throw a chocolate frosting on it, maybe some sort of pudding filling... I'll get back to you on that. Might be my next birthday creation.
Recipes are below, God speed.
(Source: barely adapted from mix.bake.stir -- original recipe sources are listed individually)
Whipped Brown Butter Vanilla Cake
adapted from The Sweet Life by Kate Zuckerman
makes (2) 9-inch round layers
Ingredients1 vanilla bean
12 ounces unsalted butter
1 2/3 cups sugar
2 whole eggs plus 4 egg yolks, room temperature
2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups milk, room temperature
Preparation1.Split open the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. (they will be sticky! I found that if I used a spoon to scrape them out and then sort of wiped them onto the sticks of butter, it sorta worked out)
2. Place bean and seeds and butter in a medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until the butter begins to turn brown and smell nutty. The butter itself doesn't actually "brown," it's the seeds - so I found that I had to keep scraping the seeds off the bottom of my pan with a wooden spoon to accurately gauge what color it was turning.
3. When butter is rich brown (you can leave it lighter for a more subtle flavor, but don’t let it get too dark and burn), remove from heat. CAREFULLY remove vanilla bean and place melted butter in a container. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours until butter has resolidified.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. (or line 2 cupcake tins)
5. Place solid browned butter in a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed for about 1 minute until it softens and becomes creamy.
6. Add sugar and beat on medium-high speed until the mixture becomes fluffy and almost beige in color, about 5-10 minutes, depending on your mixer.
7. Add in eggs and egg yolks one at a time, beating between each addition until fully incorporated and the mixture looks smooth and glossy, about 1 to 2 minutes.
8. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt with a whisk in a medium bowl.
9. With your mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the butter in 3 parts, alternating with the milk. Beat the batter on medium speed until just incorporated, about 20 seconds.
10. Divide batter among the two pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (cupcakes took me roughly 22-25 minutes)
11. Remove and place on wire racks. Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes. Run a paring knife around the edges and invert pans onto a cooling rack. Allow cakes to cool to room temperature before decorating.
Lemon Curdadapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook
makes 2 cups
Ingredients8 large egg yolks
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter (10 tablespoons), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Preparation1. Combine yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar in a heavy bottom saucepan. Whisk to combine.
2. Cook over medium-high. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon (be sure to scrape the sides of the pan), until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, 8 to 10 minutes, and registers 160 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer.
3. Remove saucepan from heat. Add salt and butter, one piece at a time, stirring until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve into a medium bowl.
4. Press plastic wrap against the surface of curd and refrigerate until chilled and set, at least one hour or up to 1 day.
Lemon Swiss Meringue Buttercreamadapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook
makes 4 cups
Ingredients4 large egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 sticks ( 1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into tablespoons
3/4 cup lemon curd (take out of the refrigerator 1/2 hour before incorporating, to bring to room temperature)
Preparation1. In a heatproof bowl of a stand mixer set over a pan of simmering water (do not allow bowl to touch the water), combine the egg whites and sugar, whisking constantly until the mixture is warm to the touch (about 160 degrees F).
2. Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat the egg white mixture on high speed until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Continue beating until mixture is fluffy and glossy and completely cool, about 10 minutes.
3. Switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat on lowest speed to eliminate any air bubbles, about 2 minutes.
4. Stir in lemon curd with a rubber spatula.